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America's Safest Companies: Digital Realty

Digital Realty believes that safety is the framework for building and maintaining a world-class data center company.

The number one safety challenge in the data center industry is energized electrical work (EEW). Historically, most data centers have performed electrical maintenance and circuit installations "live" in the belief that their 24/7/365 mission-critical operations exempted them from regulatory standards, explains Walter Leclerc, director, environmental occupational health and safety with Digital Realty Trust. However, a couple years ago Digital Realty recognized the need to minimize "live" work as much as possible to ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and customers in compliance with OSHA and NFPA regulations. The goal was to also provide as close to 100% uptime as possible for the company's customers.

As Leclerc notes, the company's EEW minimization policy is based on three strategic concepts: advanced scheduling, redundancy, and design for safety. "Advanced scheduling supports stakeholder partnership by planning around a customer's business hours and priorities, making de-energized electrical work easier to implement. Redundancy offers customers deployment options to meet the letter of the electrical safety rules and regulations without business interruption, while customer configuration confirmation during this process has become a value-add in regards to positive customer interaction and support. Finally, design for safety uses best-in-class electrical safety technologies such as finger safe panel boards and overhead busways to ensure the safety of personnel working on electrical equipment."

Digital Realty conducted numerous internal EEW policy training sessions with senior management, operations, and sales and sales engineering to ensure everyone was onboard internally as well as to effectively communicate with contractors and customers. "We found that one way of effectively engaging employees is by maintaining a transparent process with regular and efficient communication," Leclerc says. "We also engage employees via various activities such as informational briefings and participation in customer interactions."

Implementing the new EEW policy wasn't easy at first, Leclerc admits, as several key customers were skeptical, but they were won over when Digital Realty demonstrated it could continue to provide as close to 100% uptime as possible.

"We can't separate safety from our company's essential functions," Leclerc states. "Safety is the framework for building and maintaining a world-class data center company."

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